For the last four months, I’ve been working on something pretty exciting.
When I graduated from my nutrition program, I wrote, very emotionally and fairly defensively, about not being a Registered Dietitian. I wrote about how, even though my original intention in starting school was to become a dietitian, I had discovered that in order to do the type of work I wanted to do (teach people eating competence) I did not actually need to be one. And that some of the things I’d encountered along the way — including the research my peers have done on the experiences of dietetic internship applicants — made me question whether I wanted to be one.
However, at the end of November 2013, I attended a lecture at my alma mater given by a nutrition professor who’d greatly encouraged and inspired me when I was a student. It was my first time back on the university campus since graduation, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel. It was a wonderful evening. The lecture was great, of course, but I was surprised how affected I was by seeing former classmates who had since moved on to being dietitians, catching up with former professors, and meeting new RDs and dietetic interns who were promoting Health at Every Size in their work.
That evening, after reconnecting somewhat with the world I’d left behind, I started to seriously consider applying for a dietetic internship.
First, I love clinical nutrition. I did not know when I began studying nutrition whether I would enjoy clinical subjects at all. As a student, I looked forward to them as a sort of litmus test of whether this field was really for me. It turns out that I did well in those clinical courses. No one was more shocked than me, I assure you. I enjoyed calculating TPN requirements and enteral feeds, even. My experience in the working world bore that out: I really do love clinical nutrition, even though it is not entirely what I came into this field to do.
Second, becoming an RD would solve the difficulty of trying to explain to people and the media exactly who I am and what I do. My position right now, as someone with an accredited degree, specific training, and years of experience — but without that overarching credential — makes this surprisingly confusing. I want it to be clear.
Third, one major reason I did not apply for internship immediately after graduating was because it is beyond me financially. I’m simply not in a position to not work for nine months without any financial aid. This prevented me from applying for a very long time. Ultimately, I decided it was worth it to see if I even had a chance, and then find a way to raise funds.
Fourth, I want to learn more. Nutrition is an ever-changing, complex field. I want to understand it better, have more intensive training, and have the resources to remain current with the research. As a dietitian, I will be able to do this by being a member of my dietetic association and by completing the continuing education requirements that all RDs must fulfill.
The fifth, and most important reason: I originally entered nutrition as a way of doing something positive for fat people. After teaching eating competence for four years, I feel I can serve people in a broader way if I am a Registered Dietitian. I can continue to teach eating competence, but I can also address clinical nutrition concerns when they arise. I am especially interested in finding out how eating competence might be combined with certain therapeutic strategies, as for diabetes.
So, I applied. I went through the fairly harrowing process of gathering references (four wonderful dietitians and one doctor were very helpful with this, you know who you are!), researching internship programs, writing letters, and restructuring my resume. I applied for several programs, I was called for interviews and, two weeks ago, I was successfully matched to an internship.
It was a bittersweet moment, because, on the morning I received the offer, I knew that many qualified and deserving nutrition students were staring at a rejection letter and experiencing the despair, the intense emotional pain, and the personal sense of having done something wrong that comes with it. To those students: you did nothing wrong. This is not your fault. There should be an internship spot for every student who meets the requirements, and I believe there should be financial aid to allow students of various income levels to train as dietitians.
Sadly, I am not in a position to change those things, but while I go forward with joy and excitement to attempt this thing that seemed so impossible to me, I will not forget the very deserving students who have to make other plans.
For now, I must turn my attention to fundraising so that I have the best possible chance to make good this opportunity I’ve been given. The last four months have been a wild ride, and things are only going to get more intense. I hope you’ll wish me luck.